‘The small old white meeting house is surrounded by a yet older small green burial ground where long grasses and flowers innumerable cover the gentle slopes. The soft mounds cluster around the walls, as if those who were laid there had wished their bodies might rest as near as possible to the house of peace where their spirits had rested while on earth’.
This description was written by the author Lucy Violet Hodgkin around 100 years ago. It is perhaps the most evocative historical description of this wonderful building and is easily recognisable. After more than 300 years it seems the Quaker Meeting House at Come-to-Good has barely altered.
Come-to-Good is a tiny place of just a few cottages and a farm. Isolated, it huddles in a deep protective valley. The unusual name of this hamlet, which seems so fitting, is said to derive from the Cornish – cum ty coid. Which means something along the lines of ‘valley of the house in the wood’. However, the first recorded mention of the name dates from the late 17th century. Long after the Cornish language had fallen out of use in the area. It is possible that the name refers to the growing prosperity of the local Quakers at the time the meeting house was built.
In the late 1600s Cornwall’s Quakers were facing repression and imprisonment. The Society of Friends, as they are also known, were being hounded out of their meeting houses in Truro and Falmouth. Laws had been introduced that made it illegal for more than five people to meet for any form of worship that didn’t follow the Prayer Book. The Quakers found themselves a target.
Many Cornish Quakers were often persecuted and incarcerated. One of Truro’s parish constables confessed on his deathbed that: ‘what I have done against the Quakers is the greatest sin I have committed in all my life’.
George Fox, a founder of the Religious Society of Friends, had come to Cornwall in 1656. He had been arrested several times for blasphemy. However he continued to speak to meetings and many people wanted to hear him. So, from about 1680 it was decided that the group needed a permanent meeting place. By then The Toleration Act of 1689 meant that the situation had become a little easier. And the group felt safe to start work on a simple cob and thatch house. One of the oldest Quaker Meeting Houses in England was completed in 1710.
The first meeting at Come-to-Good was described as ‘a rainy one and an abundance of people were out that could not get in and some went away again. It was our new house and first meeting in it.’
From then on congregations grew. It is said that as many as 1000 friends may have gathered at one time. At these enormous meetings people stood outside and were addressed by speakers seated on horseback.
The Meeting House Today
The building has remained in use almost continuously since it was built just over 300 years ago. It finally got electricity and running water in 1967.
The building was also restored in 2010 with a grant of £175,000 and is still in regular use. Meetings are held every Sunday morning. Inside simple pews surround the central table and a gentle light floods in from the old diamond leaded windows.
It really is a magical place.
The local historian David Mudd wrote in 1989: “if there truly is a crock of gold where the rainbow ends, then the rainbow that touches Come-to-Good kisses a wealth of peace and faith that cannot be bought with earthly riches.”
I’ll leave you with that beautiful sentiment.
*Note: I initially wrote that this meeting house was the oldest in England. I now realise this wasn’t correct. Apologies for any confusion!